Discover a Jazz Genius

For the most part, I share Angela’s sentiment when it comes to jazz. I’m just not a huge fan. And doing research for this prompt on music-junkie-godsend “Spotify” last night only confirmed that for me. I’m just not a Jazz person. I don’t like Jazz. There, I’ve said it, and I refuse to take it back.

Sure, it’s a beautiful art form, full of life and history and unpredictability. Trombonist J.J. Johnson once said “Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and never will.” And I think that might be what drives me so nuts about it. But there’s one exception to my blanket Jazz-ban. Three words: Ella Fitzgerald‘s Voice.

Let’s be real: it is perfect. For those of you seeking examples, I direct you to Manhattan, Black Coffee, and (literally) All That Jazz. Her voice swings perfectly up and down the notes of her unrivaled range. Her feminine cadence fits each song she takes on flawlessly. And just listen to the woman Scat! She’s a true genius.

Thirteen Grammy awards and heaps of fame later, one would never know she had a grim upbringing. Ella Fitzgerald was orphaned at a young age and moved to Yonkers. After living in an orphanage and then in poverty for a year, she was discovered one night in 1934 at a contest sponsored by the Apollo Theater right here in NYC. The music world would never be the same.

In this piece, take us back to 1930s Harlem, on that night the down-and-out Fitzgerald was discovered in the Apollo theater. Put yourself in Ella’s shoes, in the audience, or imagine you are the one responsible for discovering her immense talent. Use the links provided to familiarize yourself with the era and the setting, and listen to her songs to seek inspiration.